Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sibylle: A Manifesto

I started this blog on November 18, 2008, almost a year ago. So far, I've let my tastes speak for me but I think perhaps it's time I come out into the open. You won't find any picture of me but I think self-definition is important.

I'm a humanist. I'll take Wikipedia's definition because it's the broadest, strangely enough: "Twenty-first century Humanism tends to strongly endorse human rights, including reproductive rights, gender equality, social justice, and the separation of church and state." I'm an agnostic atheist ("the view of those who do not claim to know of the existence of any deity, but do not believe in any.") I tell people I'm an agnostic so they leave me alone.

Therefore I'm a feminist. "Women are not born, they're made." Hence my argument about why we still need feminism today: because a toddler doesn't care if the toy is pink or blue, because dolls are for everybody and cars for everybody. Society imposes its vision of gender differences from cradle to grave. I'm against that. It all goes against self-determination, and this for me is everything. The right to be whomever you are. Since we're talking about feminism, I might as well add right now: for me, getting married is admitting that you need state recognition for your love. I don't need the state to recognize my love for anybody or recognize my right to live or do whatever with whomever. I don't need marriage. On a practical side, divorces are too expensive, and I believe people should stay together if they feel they want to, not because they have to. In short, I don't believe in marriage.
I don't believe in having children either. I can be passionate about a lot of things and people but becoming a mother is beyond me. I refuse this. It's slavery: work for no pay, and actually it's expensive. I don't want my life to revolve around one person, I don't need this sense of purpose. My purpose in life, as far as I'm concerned, is to be happy and be the person I am.
I believe in open relationships, in catching moments of happiness whenever, I believe in being open and true and honest.

The reason I love Harry Potter so much is because it gave me, as Time magazine puts it, "social, moral and political inspiration". You can change what you think isn't right. There's an alternative to doing nothing and stare at the world. Take action. And the reason why I love Hermione is because she's the perfect example of this: "Get all the education you can, but then, do something. Don't just stand there, make it happen." (Lee Iacocca) Education is important because it gives you your weapons to be the change you want for the world. That's why I want to teach.

Sentimentality saddens me. It's terrible and yet so many people indulge in it. I avoid sentimentality at all costs. When I tell people I'm working on Jane Austen, I can see they think I'm on their side - the side of the people who think Jane Austen is sentimental, somebody who writes for women (oh dear), places marriage at the center of things (oh dear) and loves romantic things (oh dear). She's not any of these things. She's witty and would mock so many people's idea of her today. I don't read her for escapism, I read her before her writings are not neat, because Elizabeth fell in love with Darcy when she saw how grandiose Pemberley was, because Brandon fell for Marianne because he reminded her of his childhood sweetheart, because Tilney fell for Catherine because it was obvious she liked him. I love Jane because none of her marriages work. I love Jane because she laughs at people swooning over wet shirts, I love Jane because she's daring. I love Jane because she's funny. I love Jane because she's on the side of justice and because her wittiest characters always win. I love Jane because she would laugh at Twilight, and yet she's one of Stephenie Meyer's favourite writers (another one who hasn't read the same books I did, obviously). She would laugh at people relaxing on a Sunday night while watching a period drama. She hinted at things they don't pay attention to: people died from a cold, poverty was everywhere and could happen overnight, women were trapped and went from father to husband. I love Jane for all these reasons, not because I want to live in early 19th century (oh dear) and swoon each time I reread Pride and Prejudice because it's genteel.

I don't think anything was "better back then" or worse, "simpler". I love a lot of black and white movies (the idea of "classic" is disturbing, like there's the canon and then the rest, we can do better than that, come on) because the stories are great, not because they're glamorous. Love Crazy is the story of a couple having fun, The Shop Around the Corner is the story of two people who fall for each other because they really have things in common, mainly literature.

I don't think television is not as good as cinema. Television is just as good. Gilmore Girls for me is the story of women who are a lot like me, who reference works of fiction all the time because they know how much they influence their lives. It's the story of a woman who raised a daughter alone, of independent women who are exceptional because they are interesting for themselves, not because being paired up makes them interesting.

I'm passionate about good food. However, I don't like chocolate, coffee or most teas. Now that I'm at it, I don't drink alcohol, I don't smoke and I don't do drugs. Chocolate, tea and alcohol taste awful. Coffee smells incredible but tastes awful. Cigarettes smell awful. I'm not into destroying myself, I love life. Good food is high on my list of priorities.

I think most of all I believe in wit. Because there are so many funny details in life to miss out on these moments of fun. I'm looking for laughter in almost everything I do. Laughter and honesty, even bluntness. Because "people who are shocked need to be shocked more often" (Mae West said that, hear hear). Wit is hard to achieve because it raises you above a situation and makes you an observer, even if you're involved. I believe witty people are the best because they're subversive in the best way.

And this is Sibylle in a nutshell! I don't believe in changing for anybody. I know who I am. No excuses, no apologies, no regrets (that's Brian Kinney in Queer as Folk) - to me that means one has to be the best person they can the first time around and then, I say, it's take it or leave it.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood

I'm just back from the library and here's a teaser of things to come, the introduction to what I'm sure will be one of my favourite reads this year, Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood by Mick LaSalle.

"The best era for women on screen was not the forties, as has been commonly assumed. The best era had nothing to do with ladies with big shoulder pads and bad hairdoes watching their boyfriends light two cigarettes at the same time. It had nothing to do with women apologizing for their strength in the last ten minutes of every film. It had nothing to do with weeping and constant sacrifice and misery.
Those movies may be enjoyable. We may like those movies. But they don't represent the best in women's pictures.
The best era for women's pictures was the pre-Code era, the five years between the point that talkies became widely accepted in 1929 through July 1934, when the dread and draconian Production Code became the law in Hollywoodland. Before the Code, women on screen took lovers, had babies out of wedlock, got rid of cheating husbands, enjoyed their sexuality, held down professional positions without apologizing for their self-sufficiency, and in general acted the way many of us think women only acted after 1968.
They had fun. Tha's why the Code came in. Yes, to a large degree the Code came in to prevent women from having fun. It was designed to put the genie back in the bottle - and the wife back in the kitchen."

And that's when you know you've found a kindred spirit. I have a class today and I have a translation to finish but I can't wait to read the entire book!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Quick post to urge you all to head over to Obscure Classics - some truly excellent posts to be found there these days and many movies to add to my list of films to watch. Now go read and watch, and don't forget the popcorn. Shoo, shoo!

Charles Farrell and Mary Duncan on a still from The River (1929) by the wonderful Frank Borzage.

So when you said "I'll talk to you soon" I thought you meant "soon" like "soon", my mistake


Long story short: I'll be studying at the University of Oxford till June. I have a second dissertation to write this year (last year was about humour in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, this year it's about the 2007, 8 and 9 TV adaptations of 5 of her novels (everything except Pride and Prejudice, thank goodness, and that includes Emma that is currently being broadcast here in the UK as we speak) and I'm taking some classes on the side, just for myself. One of these classes is a general introduction to feminist theory. It's honestly one of the best classes I've ever taken: the lectures are open to everybody, even the general public who doesn't attend the University of Oxford so if you live in Oxford, I strongly recommend joining us - they take place each week on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2 to 3pm in the Exam Schools (on High Street) in Room 11. The lecturers change every week and we focus on three different authors or directors each time. The lectures are very engrossing and I've learned a lot. They have me wonder why I didn't pick Women's Studies as my major.
Moving out has proven to be terribly time-consuming, which explains my silence. I'm trying to find a new rhythm and it's taking me a while but I'm still breathing and therefore I still need to talk about exciting things somewhere. My #1 reason for picking Oxford was that I could pretend I'd be attending Hogwarts and so far it's working really well. It's so easy to pretend I did receive my letter from Hogwarts - the center of town reminds me of Hogsmeade, it's a medieval village, really. My College is New College, one of the few whose common name isn't religious so I'm quite proud of that, it's really gorgeous. The scene in which Mad-Eye turns Draco into a ferret in the movie adaptation of Goblet of Fire was filmed in my college. You can watch it here. Haven't climbed up the tree yet, though, but just you wait.

The Radcliffe camera. Great loo, helpful staff.

One of the first things I did when moving in was join the local library - it's heaven not having to buy all the books I want to read. The first book I borrowed was Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. You'll perhaps remember that The Hunger Games, the first book in the trilogy, has been one of my best YA reads this year so I couldn't wait to get my hands on the sequel, Catching Fire. The problem is that Catching Fire is the second book in a trilogy and it shows. The thing is, I wanted to explain precisely why the book didn't live up to my expectations but rather made me even more impatient to read the third one but, as usual, I found somebody else who already said it all for me. Read this excellent review right here: this is what I think.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer got such positive reviews everywhere, perhaps my expectations were once again too high for it was really disappointing. It wasn't long enough for me to feel like I knew the characters and books actually don't play that big a part in this novel, the title is a tad misleading, although it was fascinating to learn about the Nazi Occupation of the Channel Islands (you can read something about it here on Wikipedia).
So it seems my only comfort in books for pleasure these days has come from an old friend: Angela Carter, whose Magic Toyshop was simply delightful. Her grasp of language is incredible - I know I've already stressed it but it needs to be said. I completely fell in love with the heroine of the book, Melanie, who has to grow in an oppressive environment and manages to do so in very surprising ways. I was really flabbergasted to find out the book was adapted as a movie in 1987. Out of curiosity, I'm really eager to see the result - the atmosphere of Angela Carter's books is so eerie I always feel animated movies would do them more justice.

Moving pictures now. Not much to say, I'm afraid. It's so very hard to find good things to watch, there are so few and far between. The first season of Skins did make a impression, though. I find this show refreshing - it focuses on a group of teenagers living in Bristol. The direction is completely different from what you're likely to have seen before, it's an odd mixture of extreme realism (in that the topics and the way they're dealt with are authentic and ring true) and very staged moments that gives the show a pretty unique visual identity. My favourite character is a girl named Cassie who is actually responsible for a lot of these staged moments - she's a tragic figure and she brings a Hitchcockian quality to everything she does, which makes for heartbreaking viewing. I recommend the show - even if it's a little too soapy sometimes, I'm very glad I found it.

Cassie Ainsworth played by Hannah Murray, who attends the uni of Oxford as well, it's a small world after all.

Some music to warm your heart. You should know my taste by now so I'm coming up with an artist who's a bit off the beaten path for me, but whom I adore unconditionally. Roy Orbison. Absolutely wonderful, I can't get enough of him. His voice is pure honey and his songs are incredibly generous - he gives and gives and gives. Most artists celebrate or narrate, Roy Orbison just showers the listener with gifts wrapped into notes, it's beautiful. He makes me want to drive my Ford Anglia convertible to new places.

Only the lonely
Know the way I feel tonight
Only the lonely
Know this feelin' ain't right

There goes my baby
There goes my heart
They're gone forever
So far apart


Have a good weekend!

The one and only Emma Thompson. Role model, really.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Thoughts on feminism

I haven't posted anything here in ages. I love this journal dearly and it saddens me that my life seems to be too busy these days for me to take the time to properly talk about something. Frankly, it hurts, and you should probably expect a new post very soon because I can't go on like this for very long.
I just want to type something today because I was reading The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter (really good read, my third book by her and she's impressive every time) when someone told me they hated her, "she's such a feminist". This had me wondering:

Why do we still need feminism today?

Because when you enter a toy shop to buy a gift for a newborn baby, they still ask you if it's for a boy or a girl.

Talk to you very soon!